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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, September 13, 2005
    New generators of content
    I love it when things converge, and things don't come together much better than this for me: one of my favourite muses Jim gets me reading The London Review of Books (which he's now passing on in exchange for my back-issues of Planet); the LRB website points me in the direction of a millenium-year book review which brings together two of my other favourite muses. Today I've been reading a document which the LRB popped in the post to me, a copy of Iain Sinclair's review of Bill Drummond's book 45.

    Being Sinclair, it's not merely a review, it's an example of psychogeography at its best. In the first quarter of this 7,000-word article (LRB pieces are bountifully thorough) Sinclair describes his slope through Spitalfields, Hoxton, Shoreditch with one eye on Gilbert and George and the 'cultural ambulance-chasers' who are using the art industry to prepare this corner of London for the developers, the other eye (as ever) on the back story, which is deeper and more complex, hinted at on routes like Curtain Road which connects the city's first Elizabethan play-houses (the Theatre and the Curtain) with 'the Security Express building where Ronnie Knight, Clifford Saxe and the boys were alleged to have pulled off the robbery that funded the Brinks-Mat job at Heathrow.'

    '... now,' he writes, 'with ever increasing speed, the memory traces of market gardens, madhouses, priories, holy wells, 19th-century radicalism, are being wiped out by the new hip, SoHo, loft-living, sofa bar, circus school, art-scam makeover.'

    All this is purely by way of introduction to his subject who arrives in character: 'Loping up the steps of the Old Street underground station, pot of yellow, household paint in hand, comes the tall, country-dressed, purposefully under-arranged figure of the writer Bill Drummond'. A man who Sinclair says 'lives to be contrary'. He describes Drummond's creative quest succinctly and quite brilliantly:

    '... his stop/start dramas make for a strong narrative line and a driven prose that swings between remembrance and revision of things past. He finds it difficult to forget, until the bad karma has been written out. 45 belongs to the black-souled Scottish tradition of James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner. It's a great trick if you can pull it off, and Bill can, confession and justification in the same tale.'

    Perhaps that explains how Bill kept a Greenbelt audience so wrapt the other week.

    One thing in this wonderful piece which especially struck me was how Sinclair recognises that Drummond is one of a growing band of writers finding deep streams of literary potential outside the capital city: 'The centre is broken and Drummond relishes its discomfort', he writes. Drummond's places are Dagenham (In Praise of Council Houses) and Aylesbury, which 'allows Drummond to complete an affectionate field report on somewhere that isn't London. London with its massive self-regard, its endless recycling and pastiching of the back catalogue of dark history, its sound-bite novellas by fruit-fly celebrities, is no longer the sole generator of content.'

    From one of the capital city's most committed writers those words are very generous. I will re-read 45 with relish, and seek out Sinclair's other recommended provincial masterworks, Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire (on Northampton) and Mark Manning (Zodiac Mindwarp)'s Crucify Me Again (on working-class Leeds). And, watch this space, maybe for a decade, and you never know: for one appearing on Liverpool...